Sure, planks and crunches can help you strengthen your core. But are there machines for getting stronger abs at the gym? Yes, and there's something to be said for taking your abdominal workouts off the mat and onto these machines.
Integrating gym machine abs workouts into your routine helps you strengthen your core in more dynamic ways, says Jessica Mazzucco, CPT, a NYC-based certified personal trainer and founder of The Glute Recruit.
Think about it: Cardio machines like treadmills and ellipticals let you work your abs for 10, 20 or 30 minutes at a time for improved muscular endurance. (They also burn abdominal fat if you're wondering, how do I target my belly fat at the gym?) And strength machines like the glute-hamstring developer increase the intensity of tried-and-true isolation ab exercises like sit-ups.
But you can't hop on just any exercise machine and hope for a six pack — no piece of gym equipment just makes your stomach flat. You need a plan. Here are nine trainer-approved cardio and strength gym machines for your abs. Plus, the best ones you can buy to outfit your home gym.
4 Cardio Machines for Your Abs
Ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines are pivotal abs machines for building functional core strength and offer a great core workout at the gym. After all, just like you need to brace your abs when running and cycling, having a strong, stable core helps you more easily take on everyday activities.
But cardio machines don't just sculpt your abs by building muscle. As part of a regular exercise routine — and coupled with a balanced diet — using them can help you change your body composition and ultimately reveal your six-pack (if that's your goal).
1. Stationary Bikes
Does the stationary bike work your abs directly? It can. Your core stabilizes your pelvis and keeps your hips square in your seat. For the best ab burn possible, tuck your tailbone, brace your core and keep your upper body steady as you ride.
The Best Stationary Bikes for At-Home Workouts
Don't bypass the elliptical machine the next time you hit the cardio floor. It may seem low-key with its gliding foot plates, leading you to wonder, "Does the elliptical work your abs?" But it can, in fact, provide a great workout for your midsection.
To get the most ab burn on the elliptical, focus on standing up tall and not leaning forward. This will force your core to work harder to stabilize you.
The Best Ellipticals for At-Home Workouts
When you're pounding the pavement or working up a sweat on the treadmill, your core is in charge of your running posture. It's also the link between your arm and legs — in charge of transferring force from your upper to lower body.
Just don't hold the handrail while you run or walk. Only use it when getting onto and off of the machine. If you lean on the handrail, you not only take work away from your abs, but you also cheat yourself out of caloric expenditure.
The Best Treadmills for At-Home Workouts
Which Is Better: Elliptical or Treadmill?
In the game of treadmill vs. elliptical for belly fat, the real winner is... it depends. Which one can you put more effort into? Because greater effort means more calories burned.
Whenever you sprint on the treadmill or elliptical, you're forced to contract your abs with more emphasis than you would with moderate-intensity training. This produces maximal power output during which you burn a higher number of calories both during and after you exercise.
The lingering effect of this high-caloric expenditure is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). By using cardio machines this way, you not only feel your abs working, but you also burn abdominal fat faster. Your best bet is to alternate back and forth from high to low intensity (ex. 30 to 60 seconds of each).
4. Rowing Machines
Rowers are famous for their back-strengthening abilities, but they work the front of your torso equally hard. During your rowing workouts, your back should be straight but slightly leaned back from your hips. With correct form, you'll feel a bit like you're almost (but not quite) at the top of a sit-up.
The Best Rowing Machines for At-Home Workouts
5 Strength Machines for Your Abs
Each of the gym machines listed below can help you strengthen all the muscles in your core, including your rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscle), obliques (in the sides of your torso) and transverse abdominis (the deep ab muscle).
1. Cable Machines
The cable machine is one of the most versatile strength machines at the gym. Just about every cable exercise will work your core to some degree. But cable exercises like the Pallof press and horizontal wood chop are among the most effective abs cable workouts anyone can add to their routine, Mazzucco says.
Cable Pallof Press
- With interlaced fingers or a hand-over-hand grip, grab a resistance band that’s set to chest height.
- Stand with the anchor of the band directly to your left, and step to the left until the band is taut and trying to twist you towards the anchor.
- At this distance, stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees slightly. Hold the handle in front of your chest. Brace your core.
- Slowly press your arms in front of you until they’re almost completely straight. Pause for a beat, then bring them back to your chest.
- Do all your reps this way, then turn around and repeat with the anchor of the band to your right.
The Best Cable Machines for At-Home Workouts
2. Pull-Up Bars
Good news for those who can't quite do a pull-up... yet. You can also use the pull-up bar at your gym to sculpt your abs with exercises like hanging leg raises, Mazzucco says. Any time you're hanging from the bar and bracing your core, you're working your abdominal muscles.
- Hang from the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your shoulders back and down. Pull your chin toward the bar by bending your elbows.
- To help engage your back, concentrate on bringing your elbows down to touch your lats instead of thinking about bringing your chin over the bar.
- Return to the start position, and repeat.
The Best Pull-Up Bars for At-Home Workouts
3. Captain's Chairs
The captain's chair is an effective ab machine that you'll find in many gyms. And if yours has one, take advantage of it with leg lifts, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Henry Halse, CSCS.
With the chair, you place your forearms on two raised handles. Then, supporting your body through your arms and shoulders — and your back against the pad — you use your abs to raise your legs in front of you.
Vertical Leg Raise
- Standing in the captain’s chair (or Roman chair) frame, lay your forearms over the padded armrests and, if available, grab any handles.
- Bracing your core, lift your legs with knees slightly bent until your quadriceps muscles and the floor are parallel (or as close to parallel as you can get.
- In a slow and controlled manner, lower your legs to return to starting position.
The Best Captain's Chairs for At-Home Workouts
4. Glute-Hamstring Developers
Many CrossFit boxes and gyms feature a machine nicknamed the GHD (short for glute-hamstring developer). But, despite its name, it isn't just useful for lower-body workouts that target your glutes, quads and hamstrings. It'll give you a fierce ab workout, too. All you have to do is get on it face-up with your feet against the plate and torso hanging off of the large pad. Then you can use the GHD for sit-ups or crunches.
But be aware: This machine isn't for newbies or those with back problems or tight hip flexors. You need to have a strong core before working with the GHD.
- Sit on the GHD machine face-up with your feet against the plate and torso hanging off of the large pad.
- Exhale as you lift your entire torso up toward your feet in one fluid motion.
- Touch your feet with your arms if you can.
- Reverse the motion and repeat.
The Best GHDs for At-Home Workouts
5. Decline Benches
When you do sit-ups or other abs exercises on a decline bench, you're increasing the amount of gravity you're bringing into the equation. It works your muscles in a different way and adds intensity to your sit-ups.
- Sit toward the front of a decline bench and hook your feet in the foot pads.
- Place your hands behind your head.
- Inhale as you brace your core and lower your torso onto the bench.
- Exhale as you lift your entire torso up off the bench in one fluid motion.
The Best Workout Benches for At-Home Workouts